Romania confused me. It was just slightly outside of what I expected, and I struggled to understand it.
On that first day wandering around Cluj-Napoca’s city center, I wanted to dislike it. It was, to be honest, dull. Uninteresting. Not to my liking. And other negative statements. It felt like an average medium sized city that was a little dirtier than most. Food was just OK. The people seemed distant. Everyone wore this look of having a slight toothache. Day One left me thinking that had my work not picked this place for a week long conference, I wouldn’t have ever come. Nope, not me.
Day two we decided to do a tour. A salt mine, a hike, and a village. Just one notch above an average tourist thing. I was prepared to be un-amazed. Then we met Tudor, and I realized my mistake. The one I make semi-often about judging without looking beyond the surface.
Tudor is a private guide. He stands a tad taller than me, and has this incredible head of curly hair. And he loves his country. So much so that he was infectious. Hearing history from him and his passion was incredible. Yes, the salt mines were cool. Listening to Tudor was cooler.
We walked a several kilometer long gorge after and then hiked back along the ridge, almost killing our old selves in the process. Tudor was patient. We went to a village and ate dinner (I apparently have never had real Hungarian Goulash before!) and drank a large shot of something called țuică. It’s around 70% pure alcohol and is made from plums in the basement of the restaurant. It hit hard, and Tudor was non-judgmental. LOL!
In all seriousness, the day was both incredibly physically challenging and mentally mesmerizing. Romania was far deeper than I had imagined. And now I needed to learn more. Sadly, the next five days were filled with work conferences, which from a Romanian standpoint just confused me more.
Let me explain. The people I ran into the first day seemed distant. They spoke with this clip that was borderline rude. I did not feel welcome. Then we met Tudor who was outgoing, passionate, and wonderful. Then each and every one of the Romanian developers I worked with for a week were quiet, distant, and submissive. They mumbled and rarely looked you in the eye. Just what was an average Romanian? Today, we had a different guide who, while in her twenties, was fixated with communism. She was the type of person who sighed with every statement, and each sentence sounded like an accusation. Even more confusing. My wanting to pin down an “average” local of this country was going to be difficult. And perhaps a completely stupid quest.
Today we took a looooooong car ride up to a mountain village to ride a steam train even deeper into the Carpathians. The scenery was incredible. Transylvania is magnificent. And the people were … all laughing and enjoying it as much as we. And every single one of them was from in-country. Getting back to Cluj, we ran into a huge Hungarian Festival with this concert that was just raging. Thousands of people singing and dancing. Young, old, everyone. Now I had more “types” to try to unify, and it was going to be impossible. There is no average here.
So … then what is Romania? Well, it’s … deeper than you can imagine. They have history that will make your head spin and your heart weep. They have a passion for themselves and a deep love for others. They bring together, rather than isolate and keep apart. They eat, drink, and dance like each day is special. They love and they wonder. And they still remember when all of that was impossible. Yet still they live. Romania is strength and compassion. And a place I finally started to understand.
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